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10 Breathing Exercises For Sleep

Can't fall asleep? You’re not alone. Each year, insomnia leaves 70 million Americans sleep-deprived and unable to rest well. Obstructive sleep apnea is another common sleep disorder, often seen in the majority of people who suffer from extreme snoring, that ruins the quality of sleep by disrupting stable breathing while sleeping.

While there are sleeping services and medication dedicated to ending snoring, falling asleep can still be difficult due to anxiety, panic attacks, and extreme stress levels that tend to compromise rhythmic breathing. If you still can't fall asleep after popping pills or counting sheep, it can be a breath problem.

Peer-reviewed studies show that proper breathing exercises for sleep effectively mitigates the errant stress response that keeps you tossing and turning at night. Check out these nine breathing exercises to get better sleep.

1. 4-7-8 Breathing Technique

The 4-7-8 breathing technique, also called the relaxing breath technique, was developed by Dr. Andrew Weil, the founder of the University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine. This technique helps you sleep faster by easing your anxiety. Some proponents even claim it makes them sleep as fast as one minute. However, holding in your breath can also make you feel lightheaded.

Take note that there is limited medically reviewed proof that this actually works. Regardless, many advocates have vouched for the effectiveness of this technique, especially when used frequently. 

Below are the step-by-step instructions:

  1. Sit or lie down in a comfortable position.
  2. Inhale through your nose for four seconds while making a whooshing sound. 
  3. Hold your breath for seven seconds. 
  4. Purse your lips to make a whooshing sound. Exhale using your mouth for eight seconds to complete one cycle.
  5. If it’s your first time doing it, repeat the steps four times for a total of four breaths. Once you get used to it, do the breathing cycle eight times. 
  6. Practice at least two times a day. And don't forget the whooshing sound!

Note: If you’re struggling to hold your breath while following this breathing pattern, another alternative technique is to half the count (i.e.. 2-3.5-4). 

2. Alternate Nostril Breathing 

Alternate nostril breathing is a yogic-based breathing practice also referred to as Nadi Shodhana Pranayama. This breath control technique is known to reduce anxiety, relax, and calm both your mind and body.

Below are the step-by-step instructions: 

  1. Sit somewhere quiet with legs crossed.
  2. Rest your left hand on your belly or lap. 
  3. Cover your right nostril with your thumb, then exhale through your left.
  4. Release your thumb on your right nostril, cover your left one, then inhale through it. 
  5. While covering your left nostril, exhale through the right. 
  6. Release your finger on your left nostril, then put it on your right. 
  7. Inhale through your right nostril, then exhale through the right. 
  8. Repeat the process two times or more for 5 minutes. Make sure your last exhale is with the left nostril. 

3. Bhramari Pranayama Breathing Exercise 

Bhramari Pranayama is one of the most effective stress management techniques in reducing agitation that increases your heart rate. The name is derived from the Bhramari Indian bee because it sounds like a bee when you exhale while doing the breathing technique.

Below are the step-by-step instructions:

  1. Go to a quiet, well-ventilated area. Sit up straight or lie on your back. 
  2. Place your hands on your ears. 
  3. Position your index fingers on top of your eyebrows, then rest your remaining fingers on your eyes. 
  4. Inhale, then hum like a bee as you exhale while gently putting pressure on the side of your nose
  5. Continue breathing in and out with your mouth closed while making a bee sound. High-pitched sounds produce better results. 
  6. Repeat the routine five to nine times every day. 

4. Box Breathing

Box breathing, also called square breathing, is a technique commonly used in mediation. This deep breathing technique helps you slow down your breathing – by doing so, you can reduce stress and calm your nervous system.

Below are the step-by-step instructions:

  1. Sit with your feet firmly on the ground and straighten your back. If you want to lie down, make sure your back is straight. 
  2. Place one hand on your chest, and lay the other flat on your stomach. 
  3. Inhale and count to four, filling your lungs with air as you hold your breath
  4. Exhale through your mouth for four seconds. 
  5. Repeat until you feel relaxed. 

Note: While doing these steps, observe your chest and stomach. A rising chest means shallow breathing, while a rising stomach means deep breathing – the latter is more efficient in relaxing your nervous system. 

5. Breathing Imagery

Breathing imagery is a form of guided meditation to relax your nervous system.

Below are the step-by-step instructions:

  1. Lie down or sit cross-legged in a comfortable position.
  2. Close your eyes and think of words or images that calm you.
  3. As you breathe deeply, imagine the air circulating in your rib cage and bringing in peace and calmness. As you breathe out, imagine tension exiting your body.
  4. While doing your breathing, pronounce these mantras internally: "I breathe in calmness" and "I breathe out tension."
  5. Breathe for ten minutes. As you get used to the cycle, add another ten.

 

a man using breathing imagery

6. Buteyko Breathing 

Buteyko is a therapeutic breathing technique created by Konstantin Buteyko. This is especially helpful in controlling the speed and volume of your breathing when hyperventilating. 

However, similar relaxation techniques used in yoga may be dangerous if you have high blood pressure, heart disease, or epilepsy. Make sure to consult your doctor before practicing this for 15-20 minutes a session, three times a day. 

Below are the step-by-step instructions:

  1. Sit or lie down, and gently close your mouth. 
  2. Breathe in and out through your nose. 
  3. Pinch your nose with your index finger and thumb while still keeping your mouth closed. Do this and observe your diaphragm move. Inhale when you can no longer hold your breath. 
  4. Breathe normally for ten seconds then repeat the process as much as you can. 

7. Diaphragmatic Breathing Exercise 

Diaphragmatic breathing can also be called belly breathing or abdominal breathing. Deep breathing strengthens your diaphragm by slowing your breathing and decreasing oxygen. This will regulate your heart rate and blood pressure. 

Below are the step-by-step instructions:

  1. Sit or lie on your back. 
  2. Place your hand on your chest, and lay the other on your stomach. 
  3. Breathe in as much air through your nose. Watch your chest stay still while your stomach rises and falls. 
  4. Purse your lips and breathe out all the air through your mouth for four seconds or until your stomach contracts. 
  5. Keep breathing in through your nose and breathing out through your mouth until your chest no longer moves. 
  6. Repeat as often as you can. 

8. Kapalbhati Breathing Exercise

Kapalbhati, or breath of fire, is also a pranayama or yogic breathing technique. This is used to detoxify and revitalize your mind and body, open sinuses for easier breathing, and improve concentration by calming the mind. However, we recommend mastering other pranayama techniques before doing this. 

Below are the step-by-step instructions:

  1. Sit with your spine straight, with your hands on your knees and palms facing upwards. 
  2. Inhale.
  3. Exhale and feel your abdominal muscles contract. 
  4. Passively inhale (let it happen naturally) and actively exhale (focus on breathing out in a short burst) 20 times to finish one cycle. 
  5. Rest after you complete a cycle, then do it one more time.

9. The Papworth Method 

The Papworth method has been used by professionals for more than 50 years. It promotes natural breathing through the diagram, which will make your breathing slower and more relaxed. Deep breathing exercises such as this are especially helpful in regulating the breathing of asthmatic patients. The core idea is to keep your chest still as your stomach moves. 

Below are the step-by-step instructions:

  1. Sit or lie down straight. 

2, Take a deep inhale through your nose or mouth. After a 4-second interval, exhale through your nose. 

  1. Maintain the stable rise and fall of your abdomen. 

10. Three-Part Breathing Exercise 

The three-part breathing technique is a common deep breath yoga technique. It employs three parts: the abdomen, diaphragm, and chest. Word of caution: pranayama or yoganic breathing techniques could be dangerous for those with respiratory diseases. 

Below are the step-by-step instructions:

  1. Take a deep inhale. 
  2. Exhale completely and focus on the sensation it gives your body.
  3. Keep doing it until you’re comfortable enough to exhale longer. 

Why Does The Pranayama Breathing Technique Help With Sleep?

Stress makes it harder to fall and stay asleep because of increased cortisol levels. Cortisol is the hormone that triggers your fight or flight response, so this intense alertness makes you agitated and anxious – thereby disrupting sleep. Thankfully, medical associations have found that controlled breathing has the ability to put you in a meditative state. This state helps manage stress by decreasing cortisol levels that produce your stress hormones.

Through appropriate breathing techniques, you can learn to breathe naturally and effectively, thereby feeling at peace. One effective sleep-inducing breathing method is called pranayama. Pranayama is a breath regulation technique of Indian origin that is often used in yoga. 

Fast and slow pranayama produces different physiological responses. Fast pranayama reduces perceived stress by stimulating your nervous system and allowing you to focus your mind. Slow pranayama, on the other hand, calms you down by reducing breathing and heart rate. Some studies have also shown that it’s effective in producing more sleep-inducing hormones like melatonin.

Conclusion

Our mental and physical health are proportional to the quality and amount of sleep we get. When our overall health is distressed, it negatively affects our sleep stage. Thankfully, research suggests an easy remedy to this: slow, deep, breathing cycles.

Simply close your eyes, position yourself comfortably with your back straight and follow these breathing patterns for sleep. By doing so, you can improve your body's stress response and ultimately help you sleep better.

Breathing strategically doesn’t always do the trick, though. Contact Vitasleep today to get advice, a diagnosis, or treatment for your sleeping problem!